SAN DIEGO – Duane Kuiper strolled past Joe Panik in the visiting clubhouse and offered a word of encouragement.
“Good luck, Lou Brock,” Kuiper said.
“Yeah,” Panik replied. “I don’t think they’ll be expecting me to take three bags today.”
For the first time in his big league career, Panik is starting in the leadoff spot Friday as the Giants begin their three-game series with the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Panik batted leadoff one game as a 20-year-old at short-season Salem-Keizer in 2011.
With Denard Span needing one more day to make sure he’s past his hip soreness, plus Buster Posey and Hunter Pence resting from the middle of the lineup, Giants manager Bruce Bochy decided to get creative in the leadoff spot.
Bench coach Ron Wotus approached Panik after Thursday night’s loss at Arizona and asked what he thought about batting first.
Panik’s response: why not?
“It’s not really going to change my approach too much,” said Panik, who was 5 for 13 with a walk, a double, a triple and three runs scored in the four games at Arizona while batting in the No.8 spot. “I spent a lot of time hitting second. It’s the same type of approach and attitude.”
Does Panik have the green light?
“Sure he does,” Bochy said. “With Denard not being ready, and we hope he is tomorrow, we decided to give Joe a look. He’s swinging the bat well, and so (Gorkys) Hernandez goes to the 8-hole.”
Bochy is better able to split up his left-handed bats by switching Panik and Hernandez. But this was more about getting the Giants’ hottest hitter getting the offense started.
“If I want to give someone the opportunity for an extra at-bat, I’d rather Joe have it, with the way he’s swinging,” Bochy said.
Span reported feeling much better but was held out of the lineup for a fourth consecutive game as a precaution. He rode the bike and hit off a tee Thursday, and when that went well, the Giants ramped up his activities Friday.
Span hit on the field and did some light running, and planned to be available off the bench in Friday’s game with the hope of being back in the lineup Saturday.
As expected, left-hander Steven Okert was the pitcher the Giants promoted from Triple-A Sacramento to replace Hunter Strickland on the roster. Strickland went on the paternity list for the San Diego series and traveled back to the Bay Area to be with his wife, Shelley, as they get set to welcome their first child.
Okert was among the Giants’ most consistent pitchers this spring, but he didn’t make the opening day roster because he got caught in the minor league option game. There was little doubt the Giants would promote Okert at the first opportunity – and there’s no way they would have gone into a series against an opponent such as the Dodgers with only left-hander Ty Blach in the bullpen.
So Okert took his demotion in stride, despite the obvious disappointment.
“If you let it affect you, it can snowball and there goes your whole season,” he said.
Bad news for former Giants catcher Hector Sanchez. He’s back on the 7-day DL because of concussion symptoms. Sanchez had the worst fortune during his time with the Giants, seemingly taking foul tips to every body part on a nightly basis.
Bruises heal. Brain injuries are scary. Sanchez has had several concussions in his career, and so this latest one is not insignificant. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a first baseman’s glove.
Here are lineups for the 3:40 p.m. first pitch. It’s the Padres’ home opener, and a sellout crowd is expected. Then it’ll be back to 19,000 fans – two-thirds of them wearing orange — on Saturday night.